The Avalanche’s new top-line has never played a game together before Saturday. But the trio of center Nathan MacKinnon, wingers Joonas Donskoi and Mikko Rantanen – who returned from a 16-game injury absence – combined for 11 points in Colorado’s 7-3 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Getting Mikko back is helping us a lot,” Donskoi said. “He’s an amazing player and he was making some great plays tonight. We were able to find the back of the net. It felt good.”
The Avalanche (16-8-2) scored seven unanswered goals after giving up a shorthanded goal early in the first period. Colorado’s second-line center Nazem Kadri scored the first two, giving the Avalanche an extra weapon on another line. This was something that was missing from their lineup in previous years, especially when dealing with as many injuries as they are now. Although Rantanen has returned, the Avs continue to play without forwards Gabe Landeskog, Matt Calvert, Colin Wilson, Andre Burakovsky and defenseman Erik Johnson.
“When Mikko and Gabe went down last year it was a little tougher without having that great (second-line) centerman,” MacKinnon said. “We have a good 1-2 punch, I think.”
Kadri’s two goals came within 1:25, giving the Avalanche the lead and all the momentum. A goal from MacKinnon made it 3-1. MacKinnon later added another assist to finish the game with three points.
MacKinnon increased his point streak to seven games (six goals, mop 16 points).
“When we were without Mikko and Landy down the stretch (last season), Nate, for lack of a better term, put the team on his back,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He was the leader on and off the ice, he found a way to contribute and make his linemates better. He’s doing the same thing right now.”
Defenseman Sam Girard also had a multiple-point game. The 21-year-old recorded two assists and was two-thirds from finishing with a Gordie Howe hat-trick. Girard dropped the gloves in the first period with Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat. They both weigh under 170 pounds.
“I loved it,” Bednar said about Girard’s fight. “He caught him with a nice one, too. I was like, ‘Who’s fighting,’ because when the whistle went I was following the play. But good for those two guys, they’re two competitive guys, similar size and G was defending him hard and there was a little frustration there I’m sure.”
“He’s a fiery kid,” MacKinnon said of Girard. “I didn’t expect it for sure. He’s a very intense guy and it’s cool to see,” MacKinnon added.
MacKinnon continues to climb up the NHL points ranking. After his four-point performance Friday night and three more Saturday, MacKinnon surpassed Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Bruins forward David Pastrnak in scoring. His 42 points ranks fourth in the NHL behind Oilers duo Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and Boston’s Brad Marchand. MacKinnon’s 1.62 points-per-game is also ranked fourth in the league.
Rantanen picks up right where he left off. Rantanen recorded four points in his return, he sits fifth in the NHL, one spot below MacKinnon, at 1.60. He is on pace for more than 100 points in 66 games.
Colorado has the NHL’s best offense. Despite all the injuries this season, Colorado ranks first in the NHL with 3.73 goals-per-game. The Avs’ 97 goals are four back of Washington, but the Capitals have played two more games. Colorado has 16 goals during its recent three-game winning streak.
Stat of the Night
MacKinnon finishes the month of November with 25 points—the highest-scoring month for a player in Avalanche history. He played the entire month without Landeskog and all but one without Rantanen.